Until the Covid-19 crisis, few questioned whether a four-year college degree was a good investment. But that has all changed (“The End of The University,” The New Republic, October 2020). I submit a debate is long overdue.
Only in this country is postsecondary education considered to be essential for a bright future. Our competitors abroad harbor no such delusions. They begin the process of differentiation early in the lives of students. Those who lack the wherewithal for handling rigorous academic material are directed toward vocational education.
But we persist in the fiction that everyone is doomed without a college degree. That’s patently false. Young people who follow a vocational curriculum in high school, coupled with an apprenticeship, go on to earn a solid living, without the burden of student debt.
Free and open college, on the other hand, has been a disaster. In 1970, City University of New York guaranteed admission to all students who graduated high school. By 1978, two out of three students required remedial work in writing, reading or math, and one in five needed it in all three. By 1998, the board of trustees had had enough and ended open-admissions at four-year colleges, requiring applicants to pass proficiency tests to gain entry.
We do young people a disservice by giving them degrees that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. They would be far better off learning a lucrative trade. It’s finally time to accord vocational education the respect it deserves.
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